Nature Of The Beast: .500 Mets Are Jekyll & Hyde

Apparently, I spoke too soon: fire the fanboy.

I suppose this is what a .500 team looks like. A sublime string of wins, crisp games and smart play is followed by a ghastly stretch of boneheadism, vapid offense and corresponding losses. Baby steps, I suppose, but that doesn’t make the dour, Indian-pudding taste of these last three games go down any easier. Each one was winnable in its own way, but each was littered with mental mistakes, limp-noodle bats at the wrong time and just…one…bad…inning in a nearly flawless effort from the odd starter or reliever. That’s all it takes for a season to turn to trash in a big hurry. It would seem that the only difference between a .500 ballclub and a .667 one is consistent bad timing: the hit with the bases loaded that isn’t made, the botched cutoff throw that leads to a run, the Jerry Meals call the pitcher doesn’t get. Ron Darling’s mantra from 2007 and 2008 is playing in my head: “A lot of times, it’s not ‘how many,’ but ‘when’ that makes the difference.” The last three games, the “when” has not been the Mets’ friend.

Again, this is how it seems to go with .500 teams. The stars never seem to align in just the right way, and the sad fact is, a .500 team can pretty much only rely on the fates. Casey Stengel famously told us in 1963 that “You make your own luck.” Shaping your own destiny takes talent, as well as confidence and hard work. Right now, there isn’t enough talent to win the day, and the a scrappy attitude can only take one so far – despite whatever Wayne Hagin thinks about David Eckstein. Until the David Einhorn money comes in and/or the Bernie Madoff lawsuit is settled, there is little that can be done to remedy the situation. Then, Sandy Alderson can put his Jedi mind tricks to use in the off-season and acquire some frontline players – preferably a true slugging outfielder to relegate Jason Bay and a quality starting pitcher to replace Mike Pelfrey – and some prospects to restock the farms.

We fans can see better times ahead. The horizon looks clear, despite this franchise’s widely noted propensity to screw up the best of circumstances. Until that future comes into a little sharper focus, we fans are going to be stuck on the rollercoaster.

Mets should embrace platooning in 2011

After avoiding platoons for most of the past few seasons, the Mets could be moving back to this strategy in 2011, with potential platoon situations at both catcher and second base. With the LaRussification of bullpen usage, platoons have fallen out of favor throughout the majors in recent years, as spots that would go to platoon bats when teams carried 10 pitchers now go instead to sixth and seventh relievers.

Most people expect the Mets to go with a platoon at catcher, where Josh Thole has a lifetime .309/.382/.401 mark versus RHP in the majors and newly-acquired Ronny Paulino has a .338/.390/.491 career mark against southpaws. If these two can match these totals in 2011, the Mets could have one of the most productive catching tandems in baseball.

But what has gotten less attention is the possibility for a similar situation at second base. Daniel Murphy’s career numbers against righties – .282/.340/.436 – could team quite nicely with either Luis Castillo (.292/.361/.417) or Brad Emaus (currently sporting a .448 split in the Dominican Winter League) getting the at-bats versus lefties for an effective offensive duo.

The Mets have a long history of platooning. Casey Stengel, the team’s first manager, is generally credited with bringing platooning back to the majors in the late 1940s, after the practice had essentially been abandoned. Platooning has roots back to the early 1900s. Historian Bill James credits the 1906 Tigers as having the first platoon, with three people sharing the catching position.

When Stengel managed the Mets, he ran several platoons, including one at first base. Gil Hodges had great success as a part-timer in 1962, as he batted .390/.446/.712 in 65 PA versus southpaws. So, it is little surprise that Hodges used platoons extensively when he became Mets manager.

In the World Championship year of 1969, Hodges tinkered extensively with his lineups. By the end of the season, he was platooning at three infield positions. First base had Donn Clendenon and Ed Kranepool alternating; second base had Al Weiss and Ken Boswell splitting at-bats and third base saw either Ed Charles or Wayne Garrett in the lineup depending upon the pitcher.

The common perception is that Art Shamsky and Ron Swoboda platooned during the season but a look at the game logs does not support this. Shamsky missed all of April with a back injury and did not make his first start until May 13th. He was generally in the lineup for the rest of the season, although he saw time in both left field and right field and even saw a handful of games at first base. Swoboda was essentially the regular RF in September.

Shamsky and Swoboda did platoon in the World Series, with Shamsky’s only start coming in Game Three against RHP Jim Palmer. Shamsky’s .863 OPS during the season was the second-highest mark on the club, yet he had fewer ABs in World Series than Jerry Koosman.

The 1986 Mets also platooned, with Wally Backman and Tim Teufel sharing time at second base. By the end of the season, Kevin Mitchell was a semi-regular versus LHP and Mookie Wilson also saw considerable time versus southpaws.

Fans of the 2011 club should embrace the Thole-Paulino platoon. We should also be open to a time share at second base. While platooning has not been a staple of recent editions of the team, the Mets have had great success with the strategy throughout their history.

Mets Rewind: June 30

Here’s what happened on this day in New York Mets history:

1962: One night after registering 16 walks, including seven in a rown in the first inning on their way to a 10-4 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers, the New York Mets were no-hit by Sandy Koufax. The Dodgers ace struck out 13 New York hitters, including the first three on nine pitches. It was Koufax’s first career no-hitter. Mets pinch hitter Gene Woodling said he’s never seen anyone throw harder. After the game, Casey Stengel stood alone. There were no reporters in sight. Stengel quipped, “Where’s all them reporters tonight? Something must be going on.”

1986: New York Mets traded Ed Lynch to the Chicago Cubs for Dave Liddell and Dave Lenderman.